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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Chronicles of Riddick (review)

It’s Baroque

The Chronicles of Riddick — or, as I like to call it, When Production Designers Go Insane — plummets to a depth in its disdain for genre audiences not witnessed since, well, Pitch Black. I will continue to maintain, from my lonely table for one, that the 2000 predecessor to this movie is one of the most shockingly immoral celebrations of human thuggery and baseness that I’ve ever seen, because it reeked with a stylishness that glorified its deliberately and unsubtly depraved hero. In that, Pitch Black had the capacity to anger me, to involve me, if in a wholly negative way.
But Riddick? Riddick is different. A lot of care and concern — evil care and concern, but still — went into Pitch Black, into making a big movie on a little budget (reportedly $23 million). With Riddick, a lot of money — $100 million more than last time; not $100 million, a $100 million more — went into making a colossal movie. And by that I mean colossally awful, a disaster of Battlefield Earth proportions, a nightmare of overwrought CGI and grotesquely ornate costumes and hideous sets… and nothing else. Tim Burton wishes he was this monstrous. George Lucas dreams of running amuck with CGI like this. You know how they say if it ain’t baroque, etcetera. It’s baroque. Man, is it baroque.

That doesn’t make me mad — at least not on the story level of the film, because there is no story; I’m plenty mad about the contempt for the audience that’s behind it — though it does make me laugh, in that I-can’t-believe-someone-thought-this’d-be-a-good-movie way. There’s nothing at all to which you can react emotionally up on the screen. I can’t even get worked up about Riddick, because he’s a complete nonentity here, existing only to serve as an afterthought in the foreground, an excuse for the insane production design going on around him.

Think about that. Legions of fans love Pitch Black, apparently, precisely for the amorality of the anti-hero, Vin Diesel’s (A Man Apart, XXX) Riddick, and yet Riddick here is nothing, a propped-up shadow of what he was in the first film, and he was hardly possessed of a sturdy Shakespearean robustness to start with. Oh, sure, he makes mean-spirited quips about people’s impending dooms and the like, but so what? He just gets shuttled around the movie, shoehorned into Mortal Kombat battles here and there, like any other overly muscled, small-brained protagonist in a half-assed action movie. Millions will flock to this flick looking for more Riddick, and they won’t find much of him at all. And these are supposed to be his chronicles. If that’s not disdain for the audience, I dunno what is.

Jeez, far be it from me to say something nice about Pitch Black, but at least it had a story, even if it was stolen from Aliens. Riddick is just a slapdash conglomeration of set pieces stitched together, and they’re all apparently borrowed or inspired by pulpy old science fiction and tweaked just enough to make you think writer (and director, damn him) David Twohy (Below) is making fun of us fans, like he’s trying to see how ridiculous he can be and still convince us he’s serious. Necromongers — Necromongers? *snort* — from outer space or somewhere, who are kind of like the Borg crossed with George W. Bush’s most deranged fantasy of Islamofascists, arrive on peaceful planets, where they force the inhabitants to “convert” to their strange and poorly explicated religion. And then when no one converts, they destroy the planet, which makes you wonder why they didn’t just destroy the planet to start with, and why they want everyone to convert in the first place. Riddick is brought in to fight these Necromongers — Necromongers? *snort* — because Dame Judi Dench (Die Another Day, The Importance of Being Earnest) — holy crap, she must have been desperate for a paycheck — apparently saw the posters for Pitch Black that said “Fight evil with evil.” But then Riddick is whisked off to the prison planet of Crematoria for some more fighting and because, hey, Twohy had $120 million to spend, so let’s built some more planets. Every time someone said “Crematoria” or it appeared in a caption I had to laugh, because wasn’t that Uncle Fester’s cat or Gomez’s great aunt or something? Only Thandie Newton (The Truth About Charlie, Mission: Impossible 2) overacting and slinking around in some of the worst vampy costumes I’ve ever seen made me laugh harder.

But no matter how absurd the film gets, which is plenty — there’s some hoo-ha about a prophesy that likens Riddick to the baby Jesus escaping being murdered by Herod — and how much you want to laugh, the biggest joke of all is on the audience. And that ain’t funny at all.


MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violent action and some language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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